Banff is nestled in the Canadian Rockies with picturesque views in every direction. In the summer, there are innumerable hiking trails in the city and within a half-hour drive that can be navigated by a group or by a single traveler. In the winter, snow will cover the mountains and the resort town becomes a skiers’ paradise.
If you have an outdoorsy bone in your body, I cannot stress how much I recommend planning this trip. Here’s a full guide of things to do, see and where to stay in beautiful Banff in Alberta, Canada.
WHERE TO STAY
For me, any trip to Banff will normally start and end with a stay at the Fairmont Banff Springs Hotel. The resort sits near the highest point of the town and is widely regarded as the best views. The Fairmont has enough to do on-site that you would never have to leave. You can be pampered in a spa, eat at multiple on-location fine dining restaurants, and participate in activities like tennis, golf, or employee-led classes. If you want to enjoy the town, it is about a mile walk down the mountain to the main district.
For our stay, we chose the Dorothy Motel at the edge of the downtown district. It doesn’t offer the amenities of the Fairmont but it is walkable to everything and gives the old-time kitsch you may want in a roadside motel with modern updates for the Gen X/Y/Z traveler. The price point also came in at about a third of the Fairmont.
WHAT TO DO
Banff is an outdoor dream. The area is home to some of the most beautiful and picturesque landscapes anyone has ever seen. The hiking trails around the town can be navigated by the novice to the most experienced hikers. We stuck to the Bow River and Bow Falls Trails, each following one of the purest clear bodies of water stretching about 2-3 miles.
The Bow River Trail took us to the top of a mountain with scenic overlooks of the downtown, the Fairmont, and surrounding mountains. The Bow Falls trail took us into the river valley with the serene sounds of the river and an art installation from local sculptors along the path.
On the second day, we took a day trip to Lake Louise and Lake Morraine. Stated above, I referenced the Bow River as one of the purest bodies of water I have ever seen, and that is only because these are the two most beautiful Lakes I have ever seen. The admiration and awe I had for Lake Louise was worth the price of the trip by itself (although my wife preferred the smaller and less crowded Lake Morraine). Many travel groups also offer a combo package to venture further north to check out the Glaciers of the area as well we would definitely do if we were to return.
The downtown area is a tourist-heavy spot, but there are local shops and restaurants for any type of traveler. Banff Park Museum National Historic site was also notable. The building itself has been preserved from the early 1900s and now houses a phenomenal Natural History Museum that rivals most we have been to.
WHAT TO EAT
All of the restaurants are clustered in the downtown district of Banff with each hotel having its own slant on fine dining in the area. While you can find just about any style of food in the area, most try to stick to the roots of the area, as they showcase and are very proud of the Alberta Beef they serve. My favorite on the trip was the Park Distillery restaurant. It featured a two-tier patio to enjoy the fresh mountain air and had a menu to match the views.
The restaurant’s bison burger and rotisserie chicken sandwich were phenomenal as they try to give you the Western Canadian campfire experience in the heart of downtown. They also have a distillery on site making vodka and rye. I highly recommend the Maple Rye.
For the coffee drinkers, the Whitebark Café was a staple each of the mornings we were there, impressing the very hard caffeine aficionado in my wife. For the dessert enthusiast, you will be hard-pressed to do better than COWS, with two locations downtown, both offering a wide variety of traditional and unique flavors of ice cream. If you want to go away from the traditional Western Canadian offering, we stumbled upon a Korean Bop Bowl and Corndog restaurant Hankki. They have multiple locations across Alberta.
Whether it is a weekend or longer, Banff should be a choice destination. The views are the most stunning I have ever seen and the town, while a tourist destination maintains authenticity with the area and allows the traveler to develop a true connection to the region. Please don’t let my just my words convince you. The pictures say way more than my words ever could.